Tuesday 18 July 2017

Baby Driver

Engine Ears

Baby Driver
2017 UK/USA Directed by Edgar Wright 
UK cinema release print.

When I first heard that one of the more interesting directors of recent times, Edgar Wright, was working on a movie called Baby Driver, my reaction wasn’t exactly the most enthusiastic. I really like the music of Simon and Garfunkel, those middle three albums they released in the 1960s were absolutely perfect but... their song Baby Driver from their fifth album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, has got to be my least favourite of their songs. In fact, in all honesty, that last studio album together has not got that many good songs on it at all... at least ones that work for me. So yeah, taking one of their dud songs as inspiration for a movie was not my favourite idea... Wright uses it in this over the end credits.

And then I saw the trailer for this thing a few months ago... which was well received by everyone except me. It was a movie with gangsters/criminals and I really don’t like those kinds of people. I went through Grammar School as a kid so the kind of hoodlum mentality behaviour you see at these institutions in real life is not what I want to see reflected in my cinema viewing, where said thugs are armed with guns or similar methods of killing people. If I want to see a gangster movie then I’ll go with Bogart and Cagney, thanks very much.

So the film already had two strikes against it but... I do like Edgar Wright as a writer/director and I did want to support him and so, yeah, I went and saw this thing anyway. And I have to say... I really didn’t get a lot out of it, to be honest. Out of all the Edgar Wright movies I’ve seen, this is the one I wouldn’t ever want to see again. Ironically, though, I am glad I saw it because, while it didn’t ring any particular bells for me, there’s a lot to be admired in it and you can certainly tell that the deft hand of an auteur director has touched this picture.

The film tells the story of Baby, a young super-duper getaway driver played by Ansel Elgort, his burgeoning relationship with a young waitress called Debora, played by Lily James (who seems like a young Mädchen Amick as she used to look in the first two seasons of Twin Peaks) and his ‘work’ for his boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey. Baby was in a car accident as a kid... where he lost his parents... but is the top of his league when it comes to handling cars and is working off a debt for Doc because of something he did in his past. However, the accident left him with tinnitus and so he uses a number of loaded up i-pods to distract from what Spacey refers to as his “hum in the drum” and the music is so ingrained in his nervous system... and in the basic DNA of the movie as a whole, actually... that he times out everything to music and this helps him keep everything ticking over like clockwork and excel at what he does.

And that’s the basic set up but, as you can guess, the various crooks involved in the jobs bring about disaster on themselves... and Baby and Debora... and everything works towards a conclusion which doesn’t necessarily take any of the easier routes to an ending but is certainly enough, I should think, to win the hearts of most audiences (just not me but even I’m happy to admit that the film is made with a heck of amount of skill and that it’s worth giving it a watch).

I said that the various songs in the film are entrenched in the film’s DNA and right from the opening heist, getaway and subsequent ‘walk to get the coffees’ which plays out over the opening credits, it’s clear that Wright is making a very personal movie. He uses the timings of the music to coordinate the way the characters are moving and even the title character lip synchs a lot of the songs so much so that, for a while there, I thought the film was going to go straight into the territory of ‘the musical’. It doesn’t quite get there but the musicality of the film is quite overt and, by the way the opening heist is choreographed, I thought for a moment that all the characters were literally using the timings of the song to carry out their criminal mission.

That subsequent post heist journey Baby makes to get the coffees, which accompanies the opening credits, is all more of the same and his dance/walk is cut in time with the music, with more lip synch and there are even some moments, during this section, where some of the lyrics to the song that’s playing are introduced onto the screen by way of signs or bits of graffiti in the background. And, of course, Wright manages to get them into the shot at the perfect times as they come up on the soundtrack and it’s one of the little things that, whether you like these kinds of movies or not, make this one worth a watch because, in terms of the visual/audio syntax of the movie, it’s pretty unique.

There’s another perfect musical moment in the film where Baby and the 'next crew' are being briefed by Doc and he’s listening to Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance all the way through the scene. You don’t hear the briefing (you do hear some of it in the trailer, strangely enough) and everything on the soundtrack seems to make a comment on the nature of the visuals. That’s something which happens anyway when you synch music up to image sometimes but, of course, Wright pushes the visuals to synch up perfectly in this sequence so that they almost become a commentary on the characters and their attitudes in this scene. The writer/director also uses this to highlight an important point about Baby when one of the thugs, Bats, played by Jamie Foxx, questions Baby’s attention to the plan because it’s clear Baby has been grooving on the music as the briefing plays out. This is where we are shown that Baby, who also looks after a deaf foster parent, can lip read as he then reels back the entire briefing to Bats and the others with almost photographic recall (which is why Spacey’s words are not heard when the brief is actually playing out... who wants to have to listen to it twice). It’s a nice sequence and its moments like this that saved the film from being ‘something to endure’ as I sat through it.

Other than the sure, confident direction and the absolutely brilliant performances from all the cast in this, we have a central character who is, while certainly a criminal, a well meaning person with a good heart and the way he acts towards people and tries to stop 'death' happening (to an extent... there are some deaths by his hand in this too) are things which help him in a scene near the end of the picture... but I really don’t want to give anything away here.

So that’s my take on Baby Driver. I think Edgar Wright is a great writer/director and Hollywood needs to be throwing money at him to make more films. I really didn’t like the film all that much but, having said that, I can certainly see that there’s a lot to admire in it. I wouldn’t want to watch it again but I would certainly recommend it to people who don’t have my kinds of hang ups about films with gangsters in them and I think this will be a well loved piece of cinematic art for many years to come, as new audiences discover it over time. Definitely worth catching on the big screen, I would say, if you’re going to see this one.

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